Improving Chicago Bulls need to get creative to add next rebuilding block
This is a good week for the Chicago Bulls to embrace a brighter future, as well as a more challenging rebuild.
At this point, the Jimmy Butler trade has been a smashing success.
With Butler playing at an all-star level once again, Minnesota is challenging for the No. 3 seed in the West and seems certain to end the NBA's longest playoff drought.
The Bulls, meanwhile, were able to build a nice foundation off a single transaction.
Lauri Markkanen flashed his impressive potential in New York on Wednesday, Kris Dunn survived an off night to hit the game-winning basket in double overtime, and the building blocks finally will be complete when Zach LaVine takes the floor for the first time Saturday.
When it comes to NBA rebuilding, the path gets significantly steeper on the journey from playoff regular to championship contender, as the Bulls have discovered a few times in the post-Jordan era.
The next major task for the Bulls is acquiring a fourth star to go with the LaVine, Markkanen, Dunn nucleus. With a top-five draft pick appearing less likely every week, the Bulls will have to be creative.
Here are some options:
This method is getting some attention with so many Nikola Mirotic trade rumors, but the Bulls face plenty of obstacles.
For example, Utah has been mentioned as an interested party.
It sounds like Utah is open to a straight-up swap of Derrick Favors. My guess is the Bulls would prefer a first-round pick from the Jazz plus an expiring contract such as Joe Johnson, who could then be set free to join a playoff contender.
One issue with Favors, a 6-foot-10 power forward, is he will be unrestricted this summer, so there is no cost certainty in keeping him. And there's no reason to think he's the fourth star the Bulls are seeking.
Favors, 26, had a couple of decent years with the Jazz, averaging 16.4 points and 8.1 rebounds in 2015-16, but his numbers have fallen off the past two seasons.
If the Bulls take Favors, they could see the remainder of the season as a test run. Then, if they can't re-sign him at a reasonable price, they could let him walk to create cap space.
Portland could be a good spot for Mirotic, in theory.
The Blazers have expiring contracts in Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh to offer with a midrange first-round pick. Portland, though, has a soaring payroll.
Damien Lillard and C.J. McCollum have near-max deals, and the Blazers spent way too much on Evan Turner and others.
Don't be surprised if the Blazers insist the Bulls take former Illini center Meyers Leonard or Mo Harkless (both owed roughly $22 million over next two years) off their hands before giving up a first-rounder.
Detroit doesn't have any expiring contracts to deal, other than shooting guard Avery Bradley. If the Pistons would trade Bradley for Mirotic, this might not be a bad gamble for the Bulls. Bradley, 27, will be unrestricted this summer, but as a defensive-minded wing, he'd be a fit with the rebuild, although it would set up a smallish lineup with LaVine sliding to small forward.
Could the Bulls choose to keep Mirotic for another season or long term?
Yes, although we don't know the extent of any hard feelings lingering from the Oct. 17 altercation with Bobby Portis. There's usually a reason why so much smoke is swirling around these rumors.
With LaVine coming back, the Bulls figure to get better, not worse. So landing Duke's Marvin Bagley or Arizona's DeAndre Ayton at the top of the draft would take some abnormal lottery luck.
Keep in mind, the past two drafts have had good players throughout the lottery. Utah's Donovan Mitchell went 13th, for example.
The No. 7-12 range could be a good spot to find a small forward.
Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox is 6-9 with a 7-foot wingspan and appears to have the skills to play on the wing. Villanova 6-7 junior Mikal Bridges is shooting 44 percent from 3-point range and is regarded as a strong defender.
Michigan State's 6-7 Miles Bridges is very quick off his feet and might do well in a fast-paced offense. Michigan State 6-11 freshman Jarren Jackson Jr. doesn't touch the ball a lot, but is a potential "3 and D" modern-day center.
This method is a little tricky. Free agents generally seek winning teams, not rebuilding plans. But with the Bulls showing some promise, they might have a chance.
Also, LaVine and David Nwaba are restricted free agents this summer, so they'll get raises.
Assuming it costs at least $20 million per season to re-sign LaVine, the Bulls won't have much money to spend unless they get Mirotic or Robin Lopez off the books. There aren't any obvious 2018 targets for the Bulls, anyway, unless they like the Avery Bradley plan.
Adding the right free agent to this young group seems to be a necessary step, similar to how Andre Iguodala put Golden State over the top.
A free-agent addition may not happen this summer, but the Bulls' cap room figures to be gone by the time they need to extend Markkanen in 2021. There is a time limit.